-- Seven astronauts boarded the space shuttle Discovery on Friday night hoping that stormy weather would hold off long enough to allow them to launch one minute before midnight on a flight to the International Space Station.
Three launch countdowns earlier this week were thwarted by stormy weather and later a fuel valve glitch. NASA spent the last two days trying to understand why a fuel valve failed to work properly Tuesday night. The agency gave up on another countdown Thursday night, saying engineers needed more time to study the valve issue.
Satisfied that they fully understood the problem by Friday afternoon, NASA moved forward with fueling of the space shuttle just before 3 p.m. and sent the astronauts to the launch just after 8 p.m.
Their mission is to deliver supplies — and a new crewmember — to the orbiting space laboratory. Nicole Stott, a former Kennedy Space Center shuttle worker, is to stay aboard the space station until November. She would replace Tim Kopra, who is currently aboard the outpost and slated to ride home on Discovery next month.
Perhaps the most publicized cargo aboard the space shuttle Friday was a treadmill named after cable television comedian Stephen Colbert, who had lobbied to have one of the space station's modules named after himself. NASA named the treadmill after him as a sort of consolation prize.